Virtual Overlords and a Few Lessons Learned

So, what is there to talk about these days? Yeah, I know, right?

I don’t know about you, but the events of the past week have been concerning. And without sounding completely tone deaf, I should at least acknowledge that while I know what’s going on, I just don’t feel like visiting with it in the detail some may expect.

To be honest, with all of the conservatives on the news and social media platforms being rounded up and digitally executed, I think my time on certain networks is coming to an end. I’m not as active on Twitter as most, but I do have a few thousand followers, and so on Saturday night, just to see if I’d been affected by the mass cleansings, I discovered that about half of them were gone. I checked again later before the 12:30pm Divine Service on Sunday and saw that the number had risen to about two-thirds having gone MIA. Whether they’re leaving the platform or being punted, I think that’s a foretaste of what’s coming for guys like me who do what they can to bring the concerns of the Gospel to bear in the public square and culture.

Either way, no worries in this regard. I’m already in the process of closing my Twitter account as soon as I can get all of my data downloaded. Although I noticed that the Twitter overlords intend to craft the contours of that decision for me, too. Their archive downloading instructions read: “You can request a ZIP file with an archive of the data we think is most important to you.”

“…the data we think is most important to you.”

I can’t have all of my content. I can have what they decide I can have.

For the record, I’ve been trying to leave Facebook for a few years. Just ask my wife, Jennifer. She’ll tell you the only reason I’ve stayed as long as I have is because it’s been incredibly useful for introducing Our Savior Lutheran Church and School to the surrounding community—who we are, what we do, and why. Beyond that, everything else I write could just as easily be housed at one of my blogs: AngelsPortion.com or CruciformStuff.com.

But give it some time. Those might end up on the virtual book pyre in the next few weeks, too. I mean, I do scribe and share things on both sites that say horribly divisive things—like abortion is a no-no, and marriage is God’s property.

It should scare Americans that it’s only the conservative, pro-life, and Christian thinkers who are being booted, even as groups like “PornHub” (which, by the way, was successfully convicted of dealing in child pornography), most chapters of Antifa, and countless other liberal echo chambers are being allowed to stay and spread their doctrines. Interestingly, I read through Joe Biden’s presidential campaign donor report, and can you guess who some of the biggest donors were to his campaign? Yep. Big tech. He received lots of help from the likes of Jack Dorsey (Twitter), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), and Bill Gates (Microsoft).

Perhaps even more terrifying is that Amazon.com gave notice to Parler, which is a conservative competitor to Twitter, saying that unless Parler begins employing the same kind of draconian content policing policies that Twitter employs—which is code for cancelling conservatives and Christians—it’ll be dropped from their servers. I think the threat actually became reality last night. And both Apple and Google have already dropped the Parler mobile application from their stores so that no one else can join. They just don’t want conservatives to be able to communicate with mass momentum. I’ve read that MeWe, which is the conservative competitor to Facebook, is on the chopping block, too.

“That’ll never happen,” so many among us have said. “Just stay in your lane and leave it to God to handle.” Well, it’s happening. And oh, by the way, God handles these kinds of things through His people. There are countless portions of God’s Word urging us to be engaged in our communities and world. If the reader of these texts is being honest, then he’ll realize they’re nothing short of mandates for Christians to be who they are in the unavoidable areas of life. Stripping away rights, mass censoring of the conservative Christian voice, unjust fines and jail sentences, the murdering of the unborn, politics in general, and so much more—these topics are all born from the unavoidable areas.

Get in the game.

Now, I’ve already talked about this more than I wanted to when I sat down at the computer screen. But as I said, I didn’t want to sound tone deaf to the fact that we’re making our way into some serious times calling for solemn reflection and serious courage. Still, I’d rather steer in a different direction… that is, if you still have time this morning, because I have far more intriguing things that I’d still like to share.

Perhaps like me, at the beginning of every year you find yourself thinking on what you learned over the course of the preceding 365 days. If you don’t, I recommend making it a deliberate practice. I recommend grabbing a pen, a sheet of paper, and spending some time writing a list of the significant occurrences in your life from last year and what you garnered from them.

It’s not hard to do. I usually try to think of at least five, even though I know I could rake into a pile far more from the annals of my brain. I list these five events, giving each a title, and then beneath each one I write a short sentence—a summary statement of what I learned in that particular instance.

Sometimes it hurts to see what I’ve written. Sometimes it’s a joy. Either way, the result is that I can put a finger on and work to remember something I know now that I didn’t know before, and it continues to be a way to reach higher when it comes to being a better pastor, teacher, husband, father, friend, thinker, and all around human being.

One of the five things in this year’s list isn’t necessarily something I learned, but rather more of a recap. I was reminded that I am more than capable of lying to myself. I’ll give you an example.

There’s someone I know who, no matter what I say or do, just doesn’t seem to like me very much. Whether passively or with deliberate hostility, this person has proven a readiness to take anything I’ve said or done as a reason to lunge at almost any moment. Of course, it’s easy to see why this would bother me. No one wants to be treated this way. I certainly can’t think of too many people who enjoy being disliked. It’s painful. For me, it hurts even more because one of my New Year resolutions in 2020 was to make a genuine effort at bridging the gap of disdain between the two of us. And I did. But it seems each attempt only seemed to ricochet. In the end, however, the self-deception occurred, not in the sense that I was wrong in thinking I could better the relationship, but rather in thinking that it matters if the person genuinely likes me or not. The deception went deeper as I began believing that the person must actually be deranged for not liking me, because, I mean, how could anyone not like me? I’m so easy to get along with, and really quite wonderful in almost every single way.

Sure.

We all think this way sometimes, and with that, the poison of the lie begins seeping into our veins and arming us for retaliation—for giving us a false justification that gives us permission to despise them right back, and even worse, to act on that disposition.

Something else on the list of things I learned: Faithfulness means honesty, and honesty means responsibility, which is precisely why so many go out of their way to redefine faithfulness.

What I mean is that so many people appear to be able to keep their consciences clean while doing just about anything, just so long as they believe what they’re doing is okay with God. But the only way to do something like that is to set honesty aside in order to redefine faithfulness. For example, skipping church becomes acceptable as long as the core of our definition for faithfulness means that our actions are in some way divinely approved, or perhaps that true worship can happen in any form and anywhere. Or maybe we deliberately choose candidates in an election who support the murdering of babies in the womb because, in our thinking, the social welfare programs offered by those same candidates intend to lift far more from poverty, ultimately bettering far more lives than the ones they’d allow to be snuffed out. In other words, in the economy of good deeds, certainly God would be okay with that calculation because it helps more than it harms. Or how about shaming a person in a store for not wearing a mask. If one believes wearing a mask to be an unarguably virtuous cause, a moment spent showing some tough love to a maskless perpetrator in a grocery store can be internally translated as a brave display of righteousness that has as its goal the saving of lives.

I’m taking better care to be aware of these darkly maneuverings, especially among Christians. And as the days of 2021 unfold, I intend to continue probing such foolishness and being ready to respond.

I’ll share one more of my five-item list. Like the first one I shared, it isn’t anything new, but rather a re-learning of sorts.

Other than God, everything has a beginning and end, and if you can just give the stormy situation you’re in a little bit of time, some prayerful consideration, and if required, some careful conversation, eventually the situation will dissipate like a raincloud that has wept all its tears.

Even some of the worst situations I’ve ever experienced as a pastor have all quieted down at one point or another. “This, too, shall pass” is a well-worn phrase for a reason. Although, the phrase will never outmatch the value of Saint Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4: 17-18, where he reminds us that the troubles of this life are momentary, and in comparison to the eternal glory that is ours in Christ, they just can’t hold a candle.

To conclude, maybe give this exercise a try. Look back at 2020 and see what’s there. You may be surprised by what you discover. The Lord only knows what some of your lists might look like after the year’s remarkably unremarkable collection of insanity. Heck, even the last ten days of 2021 have been enough to generate those “Here, hold my beer” memes we all expected, and as a result, it’s likely you already have some items for next year’s list.

Still, whatever you discover (some of which I’m hoping will be Christian honesty, responsibility, and courage for faithfulness), as the knowledge of these discoveries flow from your heart and mind to the pen at the surface of the paper, as God’s child, be sure to keep in mind what He intends to teach you each and every new day: We needn’t be afraid of those who can harm us in this life but have no jurisdiction in the next (Matthew 10:28). God will never leave us nor forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6). He is with us to the very end of all things (Matthew 28:20). His steadfast love never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning. Great is His faithfulness (Lamentations 3:22-23).

Honorable Men

Resolutions for personal betterment are the topic of discussion at this moment just past the New Year’s turning point. At least for some. Others think the idea of making resolutions is ridiculous.

I don’t. As Christians, training for spiritual righteousness is a commendable thing (2 Timothy 3:16). Saint Paul said that. He also commended us to reaching higher in our Godly knowledge and ways when he wrote in Colossians 3:1-4, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”

In any of the discussions I’ve had so far on the matter with folks who are actually attempting New Year’s resolutions, most have itemized things they’d like to change—such as their weight or eating habits. Others have shared with me personality characteristics they’d prefer to see barred at the exit door of 2019.

On a personal note, last year I focused on rebuilding relationships I’ve seen crumble. For the most part, I’ve been working pretty steadily at it. Some have improved. Others, I’ll admit, are proving much harder—nearly impossible—to mend. Still, I intend to keep at it. And besides, I knew I’d win some and lose some. But the upside is that maintaining the desire to be someone who works toward such things isn’t as hard as it was when I first started. The ways I’ve been going about it have become more or less habitual—which is what you want when you’re trying to make deeper, personal changes. You want whatever you’re trying to change to become a near thoughtless part of who you are as a person. It takes time to craft and become this, but eventually, it does happen.

By God’s promised grace, it’s happening in various ways in my life, and I’m glad for it. It makes me wonder why anyone would knock such efforts. Who knows? Maybe there’s a fear of darker discoveries when we take an honest inventory of ourselves.

Again, who knows? Either way, now it’s on to other improvements, and so I’ve made other resolutions. I’ll share one with you that I shared with the men in the Bible study last night at my house. I’d sort of thought it through on the way home from worship yesterday.

A few weeks back, right after the Divine Service, I took a moment to encourage folks to attend the upcoming Marriage Seminar on January 11. To introduce it, I teed up a story of having never seen the movie “Aladdin.” I explained that I’d finally sat down to watch it with my daughters, and when I arrived at a particular scene in which Jazmine was throwing a bit of a tantrum about not wanting to be considered a “prize to be won,” my lungs stole nearly all of the room’s oxygen in a surprised gasp.

I’ve been telling my daughters for years that, yes, indeed, they are prizes to be won!

When it comes to relationships with young suitors, my girls are to know and remember the Word of the Lord in 1 Corinthians 6:20. It’s there they will hear, “For you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” They are to know that when it comes to dating, as Christian girls, they’re worthy of the best characteristics in men. My girls are to know that everything and all that they are is of incredible value. They are priceless prizes to be sought out and won by the best of the best. This isn’t snobbery, but rather a teaching from the right perspective—the Christian perspective—that they’ve already seen this demonstrated by the One who loves them perfectly: Jesus Christ. My daughters were worth every drop of blood in the Lord’s veins, and as Saint Paul shares in Ephesians 5:22-33, they ought never to settle for any man who is unable to behold them against the backdrop of the mysteriously beautiful gift of God called Marriage.

In the end, I think I know why the character Jazmine said what she did. She was being treated like currency. But it doesn’t change the fact that I will continue to tell my daughters they are prizes to be won, and with that, I’m hoping for them to one day be joined in holy marriage to Godly and honorable husbands. In this is found the seed of one of my resolutions for 2020.

What can I do to make sure they find these types of men?

In 2020, as the pastor of a church and school, I will be doing whatever I can—actively, intentionally—to both model and promote honorability among the boys and men of this organization. Of course, I’m already quite mindful of such things in my day to day activities. It’s part of who I am already. But now I will be acting outwardly on this sense with more deliberateness. I will be looking for and seizing each opportunity to instill in the young men a craving for filling the gaps in male respectability in our society. We need these men to be the kinds of husbands and fathers who understand they can’t love their wives and children as God would have them if they love themselves more.

For example, in a basic sense, a man offers first passage through a doorway to others, namely to women and children. This is foundational to the ways of common courtesy alive in many of us. And yet, I say this having read a short news article about a man whose little one died in a house fire because he chose to save his video gaming system first.

This is where we are.

Another example…

A man is never to impose himself crassly upon anyone, being in a person’s face and loud. And yet a man will raise his voice above the fray if necessary. He is never so soft as to shrink from doing what’s right, no matter the boisterousness of the opponents who surround him. I say this as I observe our culture doing all it can to effeminize men, shaping them to be sheepishly ambivalent, discouraging them from confronting falsehood or bad behavior, crafting them into men who’d rather be friends with their children than steer them into verity, men who’ve become less likely to speak up and act when a sturdy viscera for truth is needed in the world around them.

An honorable man gives his word and is deeply harmed if he discovers himself breaking it. An honorable man puts his fiber into fighting for what’s good, for what’s important. He doesn’t accept what the world proffers as inevitable, but rather relies on what God establishes and has marked as virtuous. I offer these descriptions among an ocean of failing marriages drowning in shattered promises given by straying men who gave up long before lifting a finger to grapple through to better days with the women God gave them for a sacred unity.

In past interviews with new families desiring to enroll their children here in our school, when asked why they want their children to attend Our Savior, it isn’t uncommon for some parents to say, “Because we want them to be good people, to be moral people.” Usually I would respond with a brief explanation of our Gospel foundation, how we’re not necessarily a morality-factory—although morality is a deliberate byproduct—but rather a place that begins and ends with the Gospel as the source for all our efforts. It’s by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel that a desire to live good and decent lives according to God’s holy Law is born. With this 2020 resolution in mind, from now on I might say a little differently, “Situated firmly in the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins in Jesus—which is the primary reason we exist—the fruits of morality will be taught and expected. For the girls, virtue will be heralded. For the boys, one pathway toward many of these expectations will be by way of teaching them what it means to be honorable.”

Thinking out loud with the men in the Bible study last night, I told them I believe a moral man is far different than an honorable one. I think both are capable of sinful behavior, but I get the sense from God’s Word that an honorable man is one who not only knows the rules, but plays by them. In other words, when he falls short, he’s more inclined to regret what he’s done and work to change it. That’s a face of honor. That’s humility. That looks and sounds an awful lot like the basic wisdom of faith—like humble repentance and trust in Jesus that leads to an amending of the sinful life. In fact, God did say in Proverbs 18:12 that humility strides before honor. And Proverbs 29:23 says a humble spirit will obtain honor.

So, anyway, that’s one of my resolutions for 2020. I hope I can achieve something by it. I know that however impactful the effort is, it will be even more fruitful if upheld and practiced by the parents at home. Truly, it’s there that boys are groomed for manhood—which means the first of my efforts will always be the continuation of such things among my own sons, Joshua and Harrison.